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Bat Country avatar 3:54 AM on 10.14.2009  (server time)
Nothing's Sacred: NPCs

In case I didn't lay it on thick enough, there is some epic sarcasm in this article.

I had just set out on an adventure to save a princess/defuse a bomb/kill a monster/solve a mystery and my first stop was a little town that's known for having pretty decent supplies and friendly people. I wasn't really starved for company, but I had no goddamned clue where to go, so I was willing to strike up conversation with anyone who wanted to. The first person I ran into was a well meaning woman who knew all the town's gossip.

"You have to take care of the dragon up on the hill! He's blocking the passage so no one can get to the next town."

"Cool," I replied, hand already grasping for the sweet sword strapped to my back. "Where is this-"

"All the cows are stuck up there and the dragon is probably gnawing on their bones! We'll never have enough milk for the Milk Maid Festival '09." She was almost yelling, wringing her hands and looking around nervously like the dragon had some ninja spies watching her every move.

"Lady, I'm sure there's some left over cows up there. If you just tell me where the path to the mountain-"

"The Milk Maid Festival of '09 is a sacred tradition of our town dating back millions of years! Millions! Like, we have all these old statues we trot out to prove it. And, some pretty rad pixelated fireworks that conveniently go off just behind the clock tower for cinematic effect. There's also a competition that my daughter was going to enter but the dragon got her. He's in the cave up north. She had this pink dress that needed to be dyed a different color because all the other girls are going to be wearing pink and so she went to the blueberry garden where the dragon always hangs out because hey he likes fruit, too. I hope she's okay! I really love my daughter and she's so pretty that she'll probably win the Milk Maid Festival of '09..."

The truth is I stopped listening at Milk Maid '09. While she waxed poetic about blueberries or whatever I was busy thinking about why no one invited me to partake in the Milk Maid competition. Was it because I had a sword? Were ladies not allowed to carry them around? Did they think I was some effeminate warrior? Whatever the case, I totally missed the clue that the dragon was up north and instead went and asked around town fruitlessly until I was forced to wander like Jesus in the desert until I ran headfirst into that fire breathing monster. I like to think it wasn't really my fault. I mean, if you start the sentence with "There's an Arts and Crafts Fair" and end it with "OH GOD A GIANT THREE LEGGED ZEBRA IS ATTACKING" I'm probably going to be too busy thinking about glitter and Popsicle sticks to save you from the striped beast.

The sad thing is that I wasn't surprised where I had ended up. Truth is, I've been here before. I've played through countless games where Non-Playable Characters would rattle off about some uninteresting plot while slipping information I needed to know between bullshit. Mass Effect was riddled with uninteresting, one-sided conversations about a lost sister or dead troops that I had to go investigate on a planet in a system that I couldn't remember because I was too busy going to get something strong to drink while they cried about whoever the hell it was that they lost. Thank god the next game has the option to interrupt an NPC when they get too dull in order to push them out a window. I have a feeling I'll be doing that a lot.

Also, NPCs are dicks. Who hasn't played a game where an NPC will be happy to give you something if you either pay them an incredibly large sum of money or go on some annoying fetch quest to help them out? And, sometimes NPCs go beyond that in their ability to be complete assholes. My favorite example is in The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass when Eddo on Cannon Island asked me to yell as loud as I could into the mic in order to buy a salvage arm. I was hanging out in my friend's dorm common room at the time, so I did a small yell as close to the mic as I could. Not good enough. The NPC asked me to yell even louder, so I gave my best Sparta roar into my DS, confirming all suspicions of those around me that video games make me crazy. After embarrassing myself, the NPC just outside the door told me that I could have SNAPPED into the mic and it would have sufficed. I would have stabbed them both if I could.

Yeah, it's like that.

But, sometimes NPCs are just stupid. Beyond stupid, actually. It's like they exist on in completely different reality than my character. While the NPCs in Half Life 2 are admittedly pretty awesome, does anyone remember playing the first game? For a secret laboratory with the best paid scientists in the world, Black Mesa was sure filled with a bunch of idiots. Whether it's screaming about opening/closing a door, running into trip lasers that a blind person couldn't miss or asking who ate all the donuts during an alien invasion, it's a surprise those idiots could make it into work on time. It's like Black Mesa put "Must be Absent Minded Professor" on the Craigslist ad for their job openings.

In fact, you know NPCs are a problem when my favorite happens to be a less than talkative inanimate object that I had to murder for my own survival. I wish I could have taken you home with me, cube.

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